Anglian high cross in the churchyard of St Helen's Church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Anglian high cross in the churchyard of St Helen's Church
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Broxtowe (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SK 48898 37351

Reasons for Designation

High crosses, frequently heavily decorated, were erected in a variety of locations in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found throughout northern England with a few examples further south. Surviving examples are of carved stone but it is known that decorated timber crosses were also used for similar purposes and some stone crosses display evidence of carpentry techniques in their creation and adornment, attesting to this tradition. High crosses have shafts supporting carved cross heads which may be either free-armed or infilled with a 'wheel' or disc. They may be set within dressed or rough stone bases called socles. The cross heads were frequently small, the broad cross shaft being the main feature of the cross. High crosses served a variety of functions, some being associated with established churches and monasteries and playing a role in religious services, some acting as cenotaphs or marking burial places, and others marking routes or boundaries and acting as meeting places for local communities. Decoration of high crosses divides into four main types: plant scrolls, plaiting and interlace, birds and animals and, lastly, figural representation which is the rarest category and often takes the form of religious iconography. The carved ornamentation was often painted in a variety of colours though traces of these pigments now survive only rarely. The earliest high crosses were created and erected by the native population, probably under the direction of the Church, but later examples were often commissioned by secular patrons and reflect the art styles and mythology of Viking settlers. Several distinct regional groupings and types of high cross have been identified, some being the product of single schools of craftsmen. There are fewer than 50 high crosses surviving in England and this is likely to represent only a small proportion of those originally erected. Some were defaced or destroyed during bouts of iconoclasm during the 16th and 17th centuries. Others fell out of use and were taken down and reused in new building works. They provide important insights into art traditions and changing art styles during the early medieval period, into religious beliefs during the same era and into the impact of the Scandinavian settlement of the north of England. All well-preserved examples are identified as nationally important.

The cross in St Helen's churchyard, though not in its original location, is an extremely fine example; its carvings are very well-preserved and include an unusual figural carving in addition to the more common interlace. The form of the latter illustrates well Scandinavian influences on this type of decoration.


The monument includes the shaft of an Anglian high cross standing on a modern base of mortared gritstone blocks rising to a truncated pyramid ringed by a spiked wrought-iron barrier. Originally the shaft would have been surmounted by a stone cross head but this is now missing. In its place is a capstone and metal finial which, together with the base, date to the renewal of the cross in 1820. The cross shaft is c.2.5m high and of bevelled square section tapering from c.50cm square at the base to c.25cm square at the top. It is divided into four sections with each section being heavily decorated with various forms of interlace. The bottom section is divided from the one above by two encircling rings of flat band moulding while three rings divide the second section from the third. Between the third and the uppermost sections is a flat collar measuring c.10cm-15cm wide and set c.30cm-40cm below the top of the shaft. This collar is also carved with interlace which is contiguous with the decoration above. This contiguity indicates that the cross may have been recarved within the Anglo-Scandinavian period and may, originally, have been somewhat plainer. This is also suggested by the interlace in the bottom two sections of the shaft which is continuous round the girth of the shaft but appears to overlie formerly plain mouldings along its edges. The third and longest section contains interlace on all but the south side of the shaft on which there is a figural carving consisting of a full figure, facing forward, wearing a knee-length garment and carrying what appears to be a spear diagonally across the body. The figure is winged and has a halo, and the fact that it is apparently armed indicates that it may represent one of the four archangels. Its legs are flanked by what seems to be a pair of bird-like creatures though this interpretation is uncertain. The decoration on this section is divided by roll moulding into four swagged panels. These mouldings are continued upward into the upper section which, again, is thus divided into four. The current base of the cross is c.2m high. This gives an overall height of between 4.5m and 5m which is somewhat higher than the cross would have been originally. The original height, including cross head, is likely to have been c.3.5m. The cross has been moved on at least three occasions though probably never far from its original churchyard location. Eighteenth century records indicate that, up to 1760, it lay recumbent in the churchyard and that the cross head was removed at about this time. In that year it was moved to the junction of Church Street and Church Lane, immediately south east of the churchyard. In c.1928, together with its 19th century base and cap, it was moved to its present churchyard location overlooking Church Street. Round the base of the cross is a paved surface which lies partially within the area of the scheduling but is excluded from the scheduling though the ground underneath is included. The cross is also Listed Grade I.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Hill, Angela Shackleton, (1994)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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